Beware: 8 Cognitive Traps to Consider When Switching Gyms

woman with question mark

Earlier this week I wrote about the difficult decision to switch gyms.  In that article, I acknowledged that sometimes the gym your child is currently enrolled in is no longer a good fit and that there are times where switching gym clubs is in everyone’s best interest.

Making decisions like this are not easy.  When emotions enter in, thinking can become quite distorted and sometimes leaves you making a choice that is neither rational nor good for your child.  So, before you fly out the door of your current gym, here are some the cognitive biases that might play tricks with you:

The Bandwagon Trap.  Just because one or more of your child’s teammates are switching gyms, this does not mean you need to have your child switch as well.  While it might be tempting, especially if several of your friends are going, you need to think for yourself and for your child’s needs for the long term.  Ditto for coaches.  While following your child’s coach might seem like the most logical choice, make sure you are following him or her to a gym whose philosophy is consistent with yours and where your child would be happy even if the coach were to move on yet again.  Teammates and coaches are transient.  What endures is the club itself.  You need to feel good about the club.

The Halo Effect Trap.  You watch a club at meets that just cleans it up at awards and think that if your child were part of that team she would be joining those kids on the podium.  Maybe she would.  Maybe the coaching or training are superior to what she is currently given.  Or maybe she would just feel frustrated and neglected because she isn’t as capable as the other kids at that club or has no desire to train those hours or at that intensity.  There is no magic in the leo of that other club; those kids are good for reasons much larger than the club on the back of their warm up.  If she is prepared to do the hours, have the discipline and give up most all other activities (because that is what happens in most across the board high-achieving clubs), let her demonstrate that ethic at her current club.  If things are still not working out, then considering a switch may be in order.  But make sure that this is her choice, not yours and that she understands the choice she is making.

The Grass is Greener Trap.  Closely related to the Halo Effect is the Grass is Greener Trap.  It is easy to fantasize about the perfection of another club when you don’t actually know all the ins and outs of the pros and cons of the place.  The grass is greener in one place and one place only: where you water it.  Every place has its strengths and its weaknesses.  It may be absolutely correct that the new gym is a better fit for your child or that you (or your child) simply need a fresh start, and that is perfectly okay.  Or it may be that your child needs a better facility with pits and spotting rigs to get to the level she aspires to be.  These are valid reasons to switch clubs.  Just don’t delude yourself that the new gym is the panacea, because it’s not.

The Fundamental Attribution Error Trap.  You child is not progressing as quickly as you think she should be.  Maybe others in her group are out pacing her.  Clearly, it is the coaches’ fault.  Not so fast.  Before you assign blame to the coaches, stop to understand all that is going on.  It could be a myriad of reasons ranging from your child’s work ethic, fears or natural ability to her passion, attention in class or feeling that she is in over her head.  It could any number of reasons, and is likely some combination thereof.  So don’t be too quick to jump to one cause of a problem.

The Negativity Bias Trap.  It’s human nature to pay more attention to bad new than to good and to have a stronger reaction to the negative, taking it more seriously than the positive.  There is an evolutionary basis to this (no one ever died on the prairie from ignoring the pretty flower, but paying no attention to the tiger was a different story).  When your child gets in the car happy after practice, we don’t rush to call the coach.   But when the opposite happens the likelihood that we start to think bad thoughts about the coach and gym despite what has been a good relationship.  Take a breath and slow down.  While sometimes a pattern will emerge that indicates a serious problem, other times it’s just normal human relationships that involve ups and downs.

The Peak-End Bias Trap.  People tend to remember their experiences by the peak emotional moment and then how they ended.  The gym you are leaving may have its problems and you may have even left on very, very bad terms.  So, your peak-end memories might be less than stellar.  That said, it is unlikely that your entire experience there was a horrible one and it is unlikely that the coaches and staff are the devil incarnate.  Try to honor the memory of the good times and the good people that you met there and let the rest of it go.

The False Necessity Trap.  Perhaps the decision is firm: it’s time to move on.  This is when the false necessity trap comes in.  I’ve seen it before and it goes something like this: we cannot be honest with our current gym that we are switching gyms so we tell our child to withhold information or lie about the transition we are making.  We have to do this, the logic goes, otherwise we will be removed from the gym immediately. We have no other choice.  Here’s the thing: that is not true.  You always have a choice.  You may not like the consequences (and that may be one of the reasons you leave the gym) but you always have a choice.  True, that choice might lead your kids to get booted from the current gym (that happened to me years back before I owned my own club), but here is the thing: ethics sometimes costs more than you want to pay.  Besides, what is the lesson that you teach your children when you teach them to lie in order to avoid consequences that they might not like?

Hindsight Bias Trap.  Finally, once situated in the new gym you may find that you are kicking yourself for not making the switch sooner.  Ask the Seahawks, Monday morning quarterbacks would all win the Super Bowl because as the saying goes, “hindsight is 20/20.”  Cease and desist on the self-flagellation.     You can only know what you know when you know it.  Don’t blame yourself for not knowing what was going to happen, even if now it is all crystal clear.  Just move on.

No place is perfect, and decisions like these can be very hard and complicated.  Do your best to be aware of the tricks you mind can play on you, make your decision consistent with your values and act with the integrity you want to pass on to you kids, the rest will work itself out.